Sunday, March 22, 2009

Timothy Bradley vs Kendall Holt Preview

While much of the talk in the boxing world has focused on the junior welterweight mega-fight between Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquaio, another big fight in the division is quickly approaching.

Michael Nelson analyzes the "other" upcoming junior-welterweight showdown between belt holders, Timothy Bradley and Kendall Holt.

Photo © Justin McKie

The WBC and WBO light welterweight title unification bout taking place at the Bell Centre in Montreal on April 4th should provide some clarity in a division that is quickly gaining steam.

Several players have emerged since the new year: Juan Urango stamped his foothold with a dominant victory over Herman Ngoudjo in January, Andriy Kotelnik and Marcos Maidana both made statements in their hotly contested bout the following month, and Victor Ortiz announced to the boxing world that he’s for real when he blew out the normally durable Mike Arnaoutis in early March. With former lightweight champion Nate Campbell throwing his hat in the mix, the winner on April 4 will have a full plate in front of them.

Neither man would have it any other way.

It’s evident that 23-0 California native Timothy Bradley set his eyes on ruling the division well before he traveled to Nottingham and snatched the WBC title from Junior Witter last May. An avid student of the game, Bradley said he studied Witter for years knowing that one day he would clash with him.

He passed his exam, snapping more jabs to the pit of the stomach than to the head, setting the heavily favored southpaw up for several overhand rights (pictured below, © Justin McKie), including one that deposited him on the seat of his pants at the end of the 6th round. He’d go on to win a split decision in a fight that most observers saw as wider than the judges scored it.

Four months later, he fought Edner Cherry on what was supposed to be the undercard of a match between Nate Campbell and Joan Guzman. After the main event was scrapped at the last minute due to Guzman’s struggles to make weight, the card became a showcase for Bradley, who easily outboxed Cherry en route to a lopsided decision.

The 8th round was especially instructive for future Bradley opponents; after Edner’s trainer Pete Fernandez cursed him out in the corner, Cherry came out recklessly aggressive and ran into a right hand that put him on the canvas, deterring any thoughts of a late round rally. Bradley is not a fighter you can make too many mistakes with.

But ask Ricardo Torres and he’ll tell you the same about the man Bradley’s about to face.

The former WBO titlist figured he had Kendall Holt finished in the first round of their rematch last June. He dropped Holt twice within the opening 30 seconds of the bout. Becoming a bit too overzealous, he ran into the top of Holt’s head as he rushed in to finish his stunned opponent and staggered backwards. With more power than his 25-2 with 13 KOs record would indicate, Holt took advantage by landing a right hand that rendered Torres completely unconscious, sitting awkwardly, half-Indian style against the ropes. It was one of the most devastating knockouts in years, but the head butt preceding it created a demand for a third fight.

The first bout between the two adversaries ended in controversy as well. Going into the 11th round, Holt was well on his way towards winning a comfortable decision in front of a hostile crowd in Barranquilla, Columbia, knocking Torres down in the 6th with a right hand. After referee Genaro Rodriguez ignored what was a clear knock down early in the 11th when another right hand sent Torres chest-first into the middle rope, Holt got caught with a crushing left hook late in the round and went down himself.

Photo © Ray Kasprowicz

Holt got up on shaky legs as the crowd pelted the ring canvas with ice and beer cans. He looked as if he was going to survive the round when Rodriguez suddenly stopped the bout after a few glancing blows from Torres. Furthermore, Holt claimed that someone from the Torres corner grabbed his leg as he attempted to escape Ricardo's onslaught.

The WBO denied the Holt camp's formal request for either a reversal of the decision or an immediate rematch, but kept Holt high in the rankings in order to set up the rematch that happened the following year.

A rubber match was supposed to erase the question marks on who the better man was. It was not to be, as Torres pulled out due to sickness, leaving Demetrius Hopkins to step up in his place a week before the fight. A slightly more aggressive Holt edged out a competitive decision; Hopkins was on the move, too much to land many serious punches, as Holt played the cautious stalker.

Holt will be forced to throw more punches against Timothy Bradley. Bradley’s jab is consistent and varied, pumping it to the head and chest of his opponent, snapping it from a variety of angles. Holt, an accomplished counter puncher, will be looking to time right hands over Bradley’s stick.

Easier said than done. Using constant head movement, Bradley is a difficult man to hit. It makes him slightly more responsible than Holt defensively, as Holt tends to keep his head in one place while he’s rattling off combinations, making the exchanges violent and unpredictable. Bradley almost always ducks and weaves underneath after he delivers his punches.

Nevertheless, while Witter’s speed and power is similar to Holt’s, Bradley has never faced a combination puncher as dangerous as Holt. If he has a mental lapse that allows Holt to land 2 or 3 consecutive blows on his chin, he can be in trouble for the first time in his career. In a recent media conference call, Bradley astutely pointed out that Holt fires off a string of punches whenever he gets cornered or trapped on the ropes. It’s where he’s most dangerous, and Bradley will have to stay low and keep his gloves around his jaw.

Holt, for his part, has a solid jab that he only uses sparingly. Edner Cherry had his best moments against Bradley when he made a concerted effort to jab with him. Holt will have to step out of character and use his stick energetically to give himself the best chance at keeping his shorter opponent at bay.

The stakes are high, so expect high drama out of a highly volatile mesh of styles. When the dust settles, the man with his hand raised will have two belts in a hot division and enough competition around him to make a run towards the top of the pound for pound list in the upcoming years. If Ricky Hatton remains king, there will be a power hungry prince at his doorstep. If Pacquiao knocks Hatton off his throne and steps back up to the welterweight division, Hatton will be compelled to reestablish his reign through a fight with the WBO and WBA unified champ.

The hush of the new era is quickly becoming a roar. The boxing world will be listening on April 4th.

e-mail Michael Nelson


JRH said...

Though I seem to dream about Hatton-Pacquiao every night, I've been vocal about my anticipation of Bradley-Holt.

Holt is entertaining inside and outside of the ring (save for the borefest against Arnaoutis). Viewers always have the feeling somebody's going to be the victim of a vicious knockout -- whether it's his opponent or Holt himself -- when he steps through the ropes.

Still, I'm a huge fan of Bradley. I believe he'll be a top-10 P4P fighter soon and stay there for quite a while. He and Ortiz are going to rule 140 in the coming years.

Holt is probably going to come out firing, but Bradley is a smarter fighter. Bradley will knock Holt out in the eighth.

Thanks for the great analysis. I'm crossing the days off my calendar as the bout approaches.


Michael Nelson said...

I agree. Bradley adapts from round to round, follows his corner's advice well, and studies tape incessantly. He's a very intelligent fighter. I don't think he's a great finisher so I'm not sure if he'll knock out Holt, but I do expect him to win. Looking forward to it.

Thanks for the comments.